These four readings gathered by Perry McAdow Rogers reveal a corrupt French society from the king all the way down. Let's look at each reading in turn, focusing on its depiction of all that had gone dreadfully wrong in the France of the late 1700s.
The Marquis D'Argenson writes about corruption in the French court where, he claims, the problems have society have their origin. The court is an immoral place, artificial, focused on intrigue and position and currying favor, and steeped in ignorance. Justice has failed, for the judges fear the nobility and therefore do not render impartial judgments. Even the king himself encourages favoritism and immorality. The result is chaos and anarchy with no one truly in control or exercising the proper kind of authority.
In “Ancient Oaks Mutilated by Time,” the Marquis de Bouille laments the fall from grace of France's nobility, for “it had lost, not only its ancient splendor,” he says, “but almost its existence, and had entirely decayed.” Many noble families have plunged into poverty. Others have descended into disrepute through their dishonest acts. They have become like ancient oaks that should be grand and dignified but are instead withered and drooping. Others, the author continues, have scrambled in to take the places of these fading nobles, but they are people seeking only wealth and favor and lacking the spirit of a true aristocracy.
“The Grievances of Carcassonne” speak of the trials and tribulations of the merchant class and town dwellers of France's Third Estate. Among other requests, these citizens are asking for their rights under the law, fair and equal tax assessments, and the ability to ratify laws and taxes. They desire the restoration and primacy of Roman Catholic worship in their area as well as the disciplines of the Church, yet they are willing to concede civil rights to non-Catholics and even various offices in government. They also petition for their individual liberties, including protection from arbitrary imprisonment.
The final selection, Arthur Young's “Beggars, Rags, and Misery,” also describes the condition of members of the Third Estate, only Young concentrates on the poorest of the poor. They are everywhere, he declares with surprise. Wherever he turns, he sees beggars, men, women, and children dressed in rags with no shoes or stockings, people starving. Indeed, such misery is beyond tolerance, he believes, and the king and his officials will have to answer for the “millions of hands that would be industrious” but are instead “idle and starving” because of the despotism of their leaders.
Yes, France on the eve of the French Revolution was a society on the brink, drowning in social, economic, and political corruption, and it was only a matter of time before the situation would explode into turmoil.